If a tropical destination isn't in the cards this spring break, try a family-friendly weekend road trip.
So you don’t have the time (or the money) to take the kiddies to visit Mickey Mouse at his magical Walt Disney World abode this spring break. That doesn’t mean you’re destined to spend the week together cooped up at home. In just a few car-bound hours, you and your family can be at one of these affordable long-weekend, child-and-adult friendly getaways chock full of outdoor adventure, neon gnomes and educational opportunities. Starting with the closest, we’ll work our way through three entertaining pieces of Americana.
Estimated drive time: 2 hours
Conner Prairie Interactive History Park is a living museum with five themed areas — Lenape Indian Camp, William Conner Homestead, 1836 Prairietown, 1863 Civil War Journey and 1859 Balloon Voyage — where guests experience what life was like in Indiana during the 1800s. Where to stay: With 15 hotels in five nearby cities offering Conner Prairie packages and other accommodations (valid April-October), and nearby Indianapolis, there’s no shortage of places to stay. Where to eat: The Hearthside Suppers program invites you to help prepare an authentic 19th-century multi-course meal by candlelight in the 1823 Conner House, central Indiana’s first brick home. If you visit after March 27, try the Café on the Common for salads and sandwiches.
What to do: Try on clothing at the McClure House in Prairietown, play a game of “hoop and stick,” take a 350-foot-high balloon ride (after March 28), meet farm animals, make traditional 1800s arts and crafts or board the train at the year-round Discovery Station. What to see: Venture into an outdoor experience that puts you in the middle of an Indiana battle during the Civil War. The story of General John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry comes to life in Raid on Indiana with video, sound, staging and interpreters dressed in 1800s costumes. For adults: Adults can take the Restoration Tour of the Conner House while the kids enjoy interactive playtime. The Conner House was built by William Conner, Indiana statesman and fur trader, and is one of only two 19th-century buildings original to Conner Prairie.
Hocking Hills, Ohio
Estimated drive time: between 2 and 2 ½ hours
With a 2,356-acre state park (the original home of the prehistoric American Indian Adena culture) full of towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, wooded trails and gorges, Hocking Hills is ideal for outdoor attractions such as horseback riding, fishing, hiking, zip-lining, archery and more. Where to stay: Sleep in a piece of history at the Historic Host bed and breakfast’s one-room schoolhouse, farmhouse or gypsy caravan; enjoy medieval flair at Ravenwood Castle; get spooked at the purportedly-haunted Georgian Manner on Lake Logan; or relax at Old Man’s Cave Chalets. Where to eat: The Grouse Nest Restaurant features fresh, local, seasonal foods and wild game offerings such as Venison Burger and Hocking Hills Jambalaya with rattlesnake and rabbit sausage. What to do: Experience the vast world of nature all in one place at Hocking Hills Adventure Trek, shop 1800-1970s vintage items at Logan Antique Mall, visit one of the longest zip line courses in the Midwest at Valley Zipline Tours, or have a veteran pilot take you on Hocking Hills Scenic Air Tours to see the area from a new perspective.
What to see: For 40 years, the outdoor drama Tecumseh! has depicted the struggles of a Native American leader defending his homeland complete with galloping horses, live military cannons in action and recreated battle scenes. For adults: The Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls offers many packages for adults looking to relax including Learn To Massage Your Mate and the seasonal Pawpaw Facial/Massage Duet.
Estimated drive time: 6 hours
An Americana roadside attraction at its best and kitschiest. Listed as one of National Geographic’s “America’s Iconic Places," Rock City and its naturally formed rock streets are an outdoor adventure full of plentiful gardens, ancient geographic formations, whimsical gnomes and panoramic views. Where to stay: If you are looking for location, Chanticleer Inn Bed and Breakfast is steps away from Rock City Gardens. Over 20 other hotels are located on their website. Where to eat: Big Rock Grill offers hamburgers, hot dogs and more in the short-order style restaurant and Cliff Terrace provides pizza to guests as they approach Lover’s Leap. What to do: Walk the 4100-foot Enchanted Trail that winds through the 14-acre property atop Lookout Mountain. Started in 1928 by founder Frieda Carter, the trail begins at giant, ancient rock formations, passes a cascading 100-foot waterfall, crosses the 180-foot Swing-a-Long Bridge and ends at an open field, now known as Lover’s Leap, with a panoramic seven-state view.
What to see: Fairyland Caverns are a must. This dark, man-made cave is full of gnome figurines perched on fake rock ledges. Inside there's also Mother Goose Village, a gathering of wonderfully bizarre fluorescent fairy tale characters, illuminated by black light. For adults: Visit Shamrock City for live Irish music, Irish jig lessons, traditional Irish food and specialty beer in a souvenir glass as well as Green Shamrock Wine.
Photos provided and by Zachary Petit and Joe Murray